The Fall of the Palace of the Republic by Gerrit Engel

photos: Gerrit Engel, courtesy of Sexauer Gallery

The latest exhibition opening by photographer Gerrit Engel at Sexauer Gallery had me thinking of my early days in Berlin back in the beginning of the 2000s. I call myself lucky that I have been in Berlin long enough to have had the possibility to enter the former Palace of the Republic, the once glamorous Chamber of the People and cultural meeting point of former East Germany. In my early days of Berlin the place stood there grey and silently at the riverside of the Spree like a big headstone to the grave of the GDR. The space was mostly abandoned and shut down for public access. The shiny copper plates of the facade that made the building look quite impressive back in the day were long removed and a concrete block remained obstructing the view to any of the beautiful historic buildings around it, no matter from which angle you looked.

But all of a sudden the place was opened again for temporary use. I don’t remember exactly if this happened at the same time, but there was also the announcement that the building would get taken down soon, so maybe this was the reason for the city to sublet it for cultural events so they could collect some money for the expensive demolition. I remember being in there for a couple of big parties and one really magnificent big exhibitions called Fraktale IV: Tod in 2005. It was awesome to see the space from the inside used by artists for huge elaborate exhibits, but without all the glamorous lamps that I knew from photos and that gave the place the nickname “Erich’s lamp shop” it kind of just looked like any other abandoned industrial building that Berlin has so many of. Well, none of them have had such a magnificent location and such a controversial history…

The demolition of the Palace of the Republic started shortly after, it took millions of Euros because of its complicated construction ontop of a floating foundation in the water of the Spree and the previously undetected infestation of asbestos and it was a long process of several years before it was completely removed from the landscape of Berlin. I don’t know if it might have been maybe cheaper to just remove the asbestos and renovate the building. But I think taking down a building to later erect another building that was standing there before is a really illogical move. The Palace of the Republic was a part of Berlin’s history and I think it could have easily remained one. It’s really tacky that they are now rebuilding the former palace of Berlin that was destroyed in WWII, but than again why am I surprised about this weird move of the Berlin city planning department.

The photographer Gerrit Engel was one of the few people who followed the demolition of the Palace of the Republic and he was actually the only one who was allowed to enter inside with his camera in this period. With the asbestos problem the whole area was pretty sealed off to the public for years. He created a fascinating photo series titled Palace that follows the fall of the building step by step. Seeing these photos really takes me back to the first third of my life here in Berlin passing by this strange grey monument at the Spree on my way through the city. I like how Engel incorporated the surrounding architecture into his photos. It almost feels like they are being excavated from the mountains of concrete that used to block their view. A very creative and fascinating idea. But my favorite shot must be the one of the graffiti that says “The GDR never existed” in German, a sarcastic comment critisizing the decision to take down this important piece of Berlin’s history.

The Sexauer Gallery that some of you might remember as part of the awesome Ngoro Ngoro group exhibition during Gallery Weekend presented the complete photos series of Gerrit Engel in the solo show Richtfest from June 16 – July 25, 2015.

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<a href="" target="_self">Frank</a>



Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of iHeartBerlin. He takes photos, makes videos, and writes texts mostly about what's going on in Berlin. His vision and interests have shaped iHeartBerlin since its conception back in 2007 - and he hopes to continue bringing you the best of Berlin for many years to come.